Westport FMC Considered an Essential Service

Westport is a small village (population 590) 100km southwest of Ottawa, ON. Paul Millar has been the lead pastor at Westport Free Methodist Church for almost nine years. I chatted with Paul after learning from Bishop Cliff that Westport FMC is now considered an essential service. Here is my conversation with Paul.

What do Sunday mornings now look like at Westport FMC?

Initially, we recorded a service with worship and a message, but it didn’t feel right for us.  Our worship and messages are very responsive and will take different directions based on what is happening in the room. On Easter Sunday we gathered together on Zoom and that’s what we have been doing ever since. We share a coffee together, listen to some thoughts from myself or someone from the teaching team, and pray together. We have about twenty-eight households on Zoom. Each week different people read scripture, and we also break into smaller, randomized groups so people can chat and visit with each other.

What about during the week?

We post two devotional videos each week. Sometimes it is a message or answering questions. We’ve also interviewed Kathy Doornekamp, a registered marriage and family therapist who shared information about how to help us navigate our mental health at this time.  

How is Westport FMC involved in the community right now?

The first thing we looked at were immediate physical needs. We have over forty volunteers who continue to deliver groceries and prescriptions to people in Westport. We are also concerned about the community’s mental and spiritual health. The Youtube videos help with spiritual discussions, and we have some creative initiatives to help with mental health.

We are coordinating local artists, musicians, and storytellers to build Westport TV. Our goal is to have kids content and some kind of task or challenge every day. We want to give people fun, creative things to do to help relieve stress. We are also planning to buy a bunch of clay that will be dropped off to people who are interested. Our local potters are putting together an instructional video on who to hand build a mug. The mugs will then be collected from front porches and fired. 

Are you really considered essential?

When all this started, I organized a weekly Zoom call with our mayor, some municipal councillors, the community health centre, the owner of the grocery store, the pharmacist, members of seniors association, and others just to check in and see where everyone was at, and if there were any gaps that people were falling through. During one of these meetings I mentioned that I was working from the church because my internet is very slow at home, and that I didn’t think it looked good to have my car parked at the church all the time given we are a non-essential service. The mayor said, “I’ve declared a state of emergency which gives me some authority. The grocery store, pharmacy and Free Methodist Church are essential services in this town. It is essential that you keep connecting everyone.

What are you most concerned about right now?

Incidents of domestic calls to the OPP have spiked. Families that were already in unhealthy situations have become more unhealthy because of financial stress or just been jammed all together. I’m concerned about those with mental health and addiction issues right now. I’ve asked people to reach out to me if they are drinking more or earlier in the day because you don’t want to come out of this with a whole new battle to face.

Do you see any positives right now?

Our prayers have been that this church would return to being the heart of this community, and if people in this community were in crisis that their default thought would be to reach out to the Free Methodist Church because they knew they could get help here. That is what is happening right now, and we are so thankful.

When we can meet together in person again, there may be a whole bunch of new people show up because they were loved by this church when they really needed it. That is super exciting and we need to be prepared for that. 

This time is an opportunity for a reset. We’ve been asking ourselves, “What is most important to us as a church?” It’s not my thirty-minute sermon on a Sunday. It’s being together and serving this community, so what will that look like when we can actually meet in person? It’s not my job to resell Jesus every week. It’s our job to be disciples who make disciples. This is our chance to make disciples in our families and community. 

When the mayor of Westport Robin Jones found out I was sharing Westport FMC’s story, she sent the following:

“Paul Millar, on behalf of the Westport Free Methodist Church, stepped into the breach to coordinate the volunteer effort in Westport. Paul was required to do a needs assessment with the business owners, skill assessment with the volunteers, and risk assessment of the operations. 

The volunteers made it possible for businesses to provide their products and services to many who required home delivery due to self-isolation or quarantine orders or curbside pick-up. 

We have a long way to go to see the end of COVID-19. This municipality is small and rural and has always benefitted from extraordinary volunteers. Paul Millar and many of the congregation of Westport Free Methodist Church are people we can count on – the salt of the earth.”

There’s your feel good story for the day! If you have a story to share please email me at [email protected]

Alison McKinnon

FMCiC Writer